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Spain-Netherlands Preview

By MIKE LIPKA

STATS Writer

(AP) -- Either the Netherlands or Spain will become the eighth country to join the exclusive group of World Cup champions, and the other will remain perhaps the greatest soccer nation never to win the sport's greatest prize.

The stakes have never been higher for both sides than they will be at Sunday's final in Johannesburg, where the European powers try to earn a place in soccer immortality.

France is the only team in the last 30 years to win the World Cup for the first time, doing so as the host in 1998, but that is certain to change.

The Dutch hope for a different result after losing their two previous trips to the final in 1974 and 1978. Spain has never reached this point, but the 2008 European champion appears primed for an even bigger breakthrough after shutting out each of its three opponents in the knockout stage.

"The group deserves this, but we want more," striker David Villa said. "We are happy to be in the final, that was our objective. But now we want to be champions."

La Furia Roja may have the inside track if they play as well as they did in a 1-0 win over Germany in the semifinals.

The powerful Germans had totaled eight goals in their previous two games against Argentina and England, but Spain dominated possession and used Carles Puyol's goal to advance, prompting German coach Joachim Loew to proclaim he's "sure Spain will win the title."

If the Spaniards do, they would become the first team to win the World Cup after losing its first game. Spain has steadily improved since that stunning 1-0 loss to Switzerland.

"The team has reached a good level, we've played a very serious tournament," midfielder Sergio Busquets said. "The other day we played our best game but I hope the best game is to come."

The Dutch haven't always been dominant in this tournament, and they needed a late surge to beat Uruguay 3-2 in the semifinals, but they won all eight of their games during qualifying and all six in South Africa.

Another victory would make the Oranje the first team since the Pele-led Brazilians in 1970 to win every game en route to the title.

"We won every qualifying game, every game here," said playmaker Wesley Sneijder, whose five goals are tied with Villa for the tournament lead. "We are not going to allow that Spain beats us now."

Individually, Sneijder has a chance to complete an unprecedented quadruple of championships after his Inter Milan team won the Italian league and cup titles along with the Champions League this season.

Inter beat Barcelona, which features several of Spain's stars, in the Champions semifinals.

Barcelona and Spain both take their fluid style in part from the "Total Football" Dutch teams of the 1970s, but the current Oranje squad plays a more deliberate game standout winger Arjen Robben called "result football."

"I'd rather play an extremely ugly game and win, instead of a beautiful one and lose," Robben said.

Updated July 9, 2010

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